In The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir, Gaby Rodriguez faked her own pregnancy as a social experiment, but teenage girls pretending to be pregnant is not a new phenomenon.
Over the past three years I’ve grown more and more concerned about teenage girls pretending to be pregnant, the reasons they do this and the mental and social rewards and consequences of it. I have to wonder if part of this is because of shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, but I also think that the alarming number of their peers who actually are pregnant or have kids has an effect on them. Why would a teenage girl want to put up with the scrutiny and criticism that comes along with being pregnant in high school? This is what I think:
- Some of these young girls are starving for attention no matter if it’s positive or negative. Perhaps they see all the attention their peers or siblings got when they were pregnant and crave some of that same attention. I often see that their friends, while at times judgmental, often start bonding with the young girl in a nurturing way, something that she doesn’t get normally from them.
2. To Keep a Boy Interested
- I think this may be the most common reason young girls pretend to be pregnant. I see it played out over and over again each year in the high school I work at. A relationship ends or is on the break of ending and all of a sudden the young girl blurts out she’s pregnant or thinks she’s pregnant. This usually sends the young man into a panic and even if he’s skeptical, he tends to at least try to stay on her good side until the pregnancy is confirmed or denied. Like a lot of young teens who pretend to be pregnant, these ladies may go through great lengths to convince their boyfriends (ex-boyfriend) that they are pregnant and often times in the process, continue to try to really get pregnant. These drastic attempts to keep a boy are seldom successful.
- Evolutional psychology may say that it is normal for young teens to pretend to be pregnant since it’s in their biology to want to conceive children. During my research it appears that pretending to be pregnant is to some extend normal, but I think what is abnormal is the way that some young adults go about pretending to be pregnant. Perhaps pretending to be pregnant to yourself is normal, while pretending to be pregnant and in effect lying to your friends/boyfriend is more on the abnormal end of the scale. However, if it is to some extend normal to pretend to be pregnant, can it ever go so far that it can be classified as a mental illness. To what extent does a young girl have to go to inorder convince people she is pregnant, before she moves into the realm of psychopathology?
More recently, Annette Morales Rodriguez was arrested and suspected of stalking, beating and choking to death a pregnant woman and using an xacto knife to remove her unborn child because she had had four miscarriages and had been faking her pregnancy.
One source said that she panicked as her fake due date approached and she had to produce a baby. She was willing to kill in order to “have” a child.
Pretending to be Pregnant as a Mental Illness
I have a client I’ve known for three years and each year she “gets pregnant”. I was originally referred to her when she “gave birth” to a premature baby and was back at school the next day showing pictures of “this baby” in neo-intensive care. One of her teachers was concerned about her physical and mental health and referred her to me. When I met with her she told me that the baby had died and I spend several weeks helping her get through the grieving process and even helped her with a memorial ceremony. A few months later I found out that this was all a lie. She was never pregnant. The pictures of the baby in NIC-U had come from Google Images, and this wasn’t the first time she had pretended to be pregnant. The extend to which this young girl went through to convince people she was pregnant and had given birth to a premature baby that died concerned me. I thought surely she was mentally ill, but I let it go as the next year her problems turned to the more normal problems teenage girls come and see me about (boys, family, school, friends, drugs).
And then this year she said she was pregnant again. This time I believed her (call me gullible, but I tend to believe people until I have evidence not to) because from her pretending to be pregnant last year, I felt like she wanted to get pregnant, and from my experience, young girls that talk a lot about being pregnant, pretend to be pregnant, and are sexually active, they usually end up pregnant within twelve months. Well this young girl started to gain weight, starting looking pregnant (even wore too small clothing to enhance the effect) up to a certain extend when she suddenly stopped “growing”. She claimed to feel the baby moving and said she went to doctor appointments, but would never let her friends go with her. She told her boyfriend she was pregnant and all of her friends, but not her family. She even went as far as to have her friends plan a baby shower. I offered over and over to help her break the news to her mom, but she refused and then one day her best friend came to my office in tears, telling me that she thinks the young girl is “crazy” because she really isn’t pregnant and keeps pretending to be pregnant. Her best friend told me that all of her friends and even her boyfriend are concerned for her, but they haven’t confronted her out of fear that she really is mentally ill.
After an intense session with the young girl she admitted to me that she really wasn’t pregnant, but couldn’t tell me why she kept pretending to be pregnant and was still planning on letting her friends and boyfriend think she was pregnant. As of Friday she was still planning her baby shower. That lead me to truly believe that this girl has a mental illness, but if so, what?
The first thing that came to my mind was that she had a factitious disorder. Factitious disorders occur when a person acts like they have an illness and purposely produces symptoms of that illness. They may go as far as contaminating urine samples, manipulating documents and taking substances to make themselves ill. The benefits they seek usually are attention, sympathy, nurturance and mercy. The old term for factitious disorder is Munchausen Syndrome, and many of you have probably heard of Munchausen by proxy, which is when the person uses someone else, usually a child or elderly person, to produce the sick symptoms of an illness unto, often times with alarming and deadly results. But does a young girl who continues to pretend to be pregnant and goes to great lengths to convince people she is pregnant suffering from a factitious disorder? Through all my research I couldn’t find a definite answer, but this as of right now is my number one guess.
Borderline Personality Disorder
I also have to wonder if this girl and others like her may have some type of personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder is very popular these days, but I have only known about three people I would diagnose with borderline personality disorder and only one of them have pretended to be pregnant in a very similar manner to the young girl I’ve been talking about. I also don’t think this young girl qualifies to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, but it is possible.
Histrionic Personality Disorder
People with histrionic personality disorder are always seeking attention and can be very inappropriately seductive, have exaggerated emotions and feel shallow. I’m not sure if this describes the young lady I’m talking about either.
Dependent Personality Disorder
People who have dependent personality disorder are dependent psychologically on other people. Pretending to be pregnant would increase the likelihood that the people this person is dependent on will be more nurturing and present, but from knowing this girl I highly doubt she has dependent personality disorder, but it may explain why some other young ladies pretend to be pregnant.
Some people are just psychopaths as defined by:
- lack of remorse or empathy
- shallow emotions
- low frustration tolerance
- episodic relationships
- parasitic lifestyle
- persistent violation of social norms
Is it necessary that I diagnose this young lady and those like her? Probably not. I prefer not to diagnose clients unless I have to or it is a diagnoses that is literally screaming in my face. I don’t like labeling clients, but there are many reasons to give a diagnosis. Most insurance companies require a diagnosis and a diagnosis does help give a framework for developing a treatment plan. It is however, in my opinion, essential that I figure out what is driving this young girl and others like her to go through such great extents to pretend to be pregnant in hopes of helping them deal with whatever it is they are trying to get externally, and be able to give it to themselves so that they can develop into emotionally and mentally healthy adults.
If you have any opinions or if you’ve been through this or even pretended to be pregnant before, please comment. I would love to hear your story.